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In re Marquette Transporation Gulf-Inland, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 14, 2015

IN RE: MARQUETTE TRANSPORATION GULF-INLAND, LLC, AS OWNER PRO HAC VICE OF THE M/V ST. THOMAS, OFICIAL NO. 1050938, FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY, SECTION

ORDER AND REASONS

IVAN L.R. LEMELLE, District Judge.

I. NATURE OF MOTION AND RELIEF SOUGHT

Before the Court is Limitation Plaintiff's, Marquette Transportation Gulf-Inland, LLC, "Motion for Summary Judgment" (Rec. Doc. 12), which seeks dismissal of the claims asserted by Claimant-in-Limitation, Iberville Parish Council, under the doctrine of Robins Dry Dock and related progeny. The Parish opposes the motion (Rec. Doc. 14), Marquette has replied (Rec. Doc. 18), and the Parish has filed a sur-reply (Rec. Doc. 27). For the reasons that follow, IT IS ORDERED THAT Marquette's Motion is DENIED.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Marquette brings this action under the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. ยง 30501, et seq., as owner pro hac vice of the M/V ST. THOMAS, arising out of an allision between that vessel and the Gross Tete Bridge (the "Bridge"), which occurred on February 28, 2014. (Rec. Doc. 12-1 at 1). The Bridge carries traffic on Louisiana Highway 77 across the Intracoastal Waterway in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, and was at all relevant times owned and operated solely by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development ("DOTD"), a political subdivision of the State. (Rec. Doc. 12-1 at 2, Rec. Doc. 14 at 1). The Bridge sustained damage in the allision, necessitating its closure for repairs for approximately 80 days. (Rec. Doc. 14 at 2). The closure imposed significant detours on Iberville Parish residents for purposes of commuting, grocery shopping, and engaging in other daily activities. Id. In an effort to alleviate the inconvenience presented by the Bridge's closure, the State, through DOTD, entered into a "cooperative endeavor/joint venture" with the Parish and the State's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries ("DWLF") "to provide an alternative means of efficient, safe, and adequate transportation to the residents of Iberville Parish and the State of Louisiana, " in the form of a ferry across the Intracoastal Waterway. (Rec. Doc. 14 at 2)

Because DOTD did not have ferry boats readily available at the time, nor the resources to immediately acquire land necessary for ferry operations, the agreement called for the State to furnish a state-owned and DWLF-operated passenger ferry to the Parish as an alternative means of transportation. (Rec. Doc. 14 at 2). The Parish, for its part, was to "construct, maintain, staff, and obtain a site for temporary ferry landings on both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway." (Rec. Doc. 14 at 2). The Parish agreed and performed under the agreement. (Rec. Doc. 27-1). Thereafter, when Marquette initiated the instant limitation proceedings, the Parish submitted a claim for reimbursement of the expenses incurred in performing under its agreement with the State.

III. CONTENTIONS OF MOVANT

Marquette seeks to have the Parish's claims dismissed, alleging that the doctrine established in Robins Dry Dock prohibits recovery in an action premised on maritime negligence by a party who did not incur physical damage to an item in which it held a proprietary interest.[1] Because the Fifth Circuit has squarely endorsed the Robins Dry Dock doctrine and because there is no dispute that the Parish did not at any time have an ownership interest in the Bridge, Marquette claims the Parish may not seek to recover the expenses incurred in connection with acquiring and maintaining the ferry landing properties. To the extent the Parish's claim is premised on the assertion of a theory of equitable subrogation, Marquette argues the Parish has not established the elements of equitable subrogation here.

IV. CONTENTIONS OF OPPONENTS

The Parish argues that while the Robins Dry Dock doctrine is followed in the Fifth Circuit, an exception exists whereby the party asserting a claim for liability arising out of physical damage to property may transfer some portion of that claim to a third party for recovery. The Parish argues the animating principle of Robins Dry Dock is a concern with the possibility of unlimited and/or duplicative recovery stemming from remote damages incurred in the wake of maritime torts. These concerns, it argues, are not present here and the Parish should be entitled to recover its expenses incurred in connection with performance under its agreement with the State, which operates in the manner of an equitable subrogation under cases such as Amoco Transp. Co. v. S/S Mason Lykes, 768 F.2d 659 (5th Cir. 1985).

V. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, interrogatory answers, and admissions, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). A genuine issue exists if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Although the Court must consider the evidence with all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the nonmovant must produce specific facts to demonstrate that a genuine issue exists for trial. Webb v. Cardiothoracic Surgery Assocs. of N. Texas, 139 F.3d 532, 536 (5th Cir. 1998). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The movant must point to "portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). If and when the movant carries this burden, the nonmovant must then go beyond the pleadings and use affidavits, depositions, interrogatory responses, admissions, or other evidence to establish a genuine issue. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "[W]here the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence, thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial.... Only when there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party' is a full trial on the merits warranted." Lindsey v. Sears Roebuck and Co., 16 F.3d 616 (5th Cir. 1994). Accordingly, conclusory rebuttals of the pleadings are insufficient to avoid summary judgment. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Liljeberg Enter., Inc., 7 F.3d 1203, 1207 (5th Cir. 1993).

VI. DISCUSSION

In Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co. v. Flint, 275 U.S. 303, 48 S.Ct. 134, 72 L.Ed. 290 (1927), the United States Supreme Court denied the claims of time charterers seeking recovery of damages in the form of lost expected profits incurred when the time-chartered vessel was delayed due to damage caused by the negligence of the operator of a dry dock. That decision has been interpreted by the Fifth Circuit to establish a strict rule that "claims for economic loss unaccompanied by physical damage to a proprietary interest [are] not recoverable in maritime tort." State of La. ex rel. Guste v. M/V TESTBANK, 752 F.2d 1019 (5th Cir. 1985)(en banc). In TESTBANK, the en banc Fifth Circuit emphatically re-affirmed ...


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